You can tell a lot about a ski resort by its snow report. In an industry in which the “all-time, all the time” hype can border on frantic, the snow report at Brundage Mountain Resort, near McCall, Idaho, exudes no-nonsense honesty.
As April Whitney, the resort’s director of PR, told me on a recent visit, during less-than-ideal conditions regionwide you can only fool people once.” The report? “Today is a day for die-hards only.” Although McCall crawls with weekend revelers from Boise, only two hours away, Brundage and its ski-area neighbors answer to the locals at the end of the ski day. That said, it’s easy to trust the reputation of Brundage, which boasts Idaho’s best snow.
Topping out at 7,640 feet in arid west-central Idaho, Brundage benefits from high, dry powder. And the naturally open terrain at this elevation creates wide-open meadows and whitebark pine glades. At 1,920 acres, Brundage is big—and that doesn’t include the 420 acres of unpatrolled, lift-served side-country that’s an easy scoot from the top of the Bluebird Express quad.
Locals revere the steep, protected trees of Northwest Passage and Hidden Valley, in the black and double-black territory on the north side of the resort. But on-piste skiers have dozens of options, too, with long, highway-wide blue groomers like Alpine and Main Street. On the backside, Lakeview Bowl tends to hold protected powder on its short blues and blacks; it’s a good bet when the obvious front-side lines get tracked out.
South of McCall, Tamarack Resort is the ski area that almost wasn’t. An ambitious development—at the time, the first purpose-built luxury ski resort in decades—stalled out during the housing crash of 2007. Creditors went so far as to repossess one of the chairlifts, and for several seasons the remaining chairlifts sat idle. But homeowners recently purchased the resort from creditors and, like its namesake tree, Tamarack has come back to life—and back to basics. Scaffolding still encases the skeletons of unfinished lodging, and the resort’s services still reside in “temporary” modular structures. But the high-speed quads spin again, and the skiing is excellent.
From the top of the Summit Express quad at 7,700 feet, it’s 2,800 feet of quad-burning vertical to the base area. Not that there’s any need to return to the base until the end of the day: there’s plenty of half-lap action at the top, with the cornice drops of Me First and After You depositing skiers into steep snowy bowls, and the glades of Reasons to Quit providing reasons to eek out another run.
As the racing coach told me, at a bar stacked with staff one quiet Sunday night, “I’ve been at Tamarack for five weeks, and it’s been the best five weeks of skiing of my life.” That’s high praise in a continent-spanning coaching career, but it’s not entirely hyperbole: weeks into a region-wide dry spell, I’m still able to find untracked powder. “Stashes” isn’t even the right word—these are right out in the open for the taking. Aspen glades frame Payette Lake below as I schuss trees solo. This is country-club skiing without the country club.
Like any good cross-town rivalry, Brundage and Tamarack both have their vocal partisans. Your best bet? Ski both. But save time for an afternoon or evening at their junior neighbor, the Little Ski Hill. On weekday afternoons, the line for the single T-bar at this community-operated hill between Brundage and McCall swells to Sun Valley proportions, courtesy of the school buses shuttling after-school ski lessons. Tweens drop into the terrain park at the top of the “mountain”, carrying on a tradition that’s produced an outsized share of Olympians.
Here at Little Ski Hill, like at its bigger kin, you can trust the locals.
When You Go
Located on the shore of Payette Lake, McCall caters to tourists year-round and has accommodations suitable for the swankiest of travelers to ski bums.
Before skiing, stop at the popular Fogglifter Café for coffee and eggs benedict. For those accustomed to eating snacks out of their ski-jacket pocket: locals swear by the burritos and biscuits and gravy (in handy to-go cups) at the Old Town Market inside the Shell gas station.
The small size of the Brundage base-area lodge belies the quality of accommodations inside. Of-age guests should grab a window seat in the Upper Lot Pub, which boasts the best people-watching on the mountain, both indoors and out.
At Tamarack, guests at the Lodge at Osprey Meadows get two Tamarack Passports per night, good for services from overnight hot waxes to snowshoe and Nordic ski rentals. For aprés, stretch out at Seven Devils Pub, in the base area, with buffalo cauliflower and craft brews. //